In March 2021, we invited a community member from Gloucester to speak at MidCoast Council’s water resilience meeting. She shared the story of the community’s resilience to the 2019-20 drought. She talked about how people had even tried to capture the dew drops, hoping to save their much-loved garden. She reflected on the community’s adaptation to drought, including gardeners incorporating more water-friendly plants in their garden.
During the drought, our primary water scheme, the Manning Scheme, which supplies drinking water to a population of 80,000, almost ran out of water. The Barrington River stopped running, and we carted water from Tea Gardens to Gloucester for 29 days during December 2019 and January 2020. We also fast-tracked the expansion of the Nabiac borefield, and planned for a temporary desalination plant to supplement the Manning Scheme. In the end, we did well to manage the drought. The 2021 NSW Local Government Excellence Awards highly commended our drought response.
Climate science indicates increasing variability in weather patterns. AdaptNSW’s climate mapping for our region (also discussed in Our Region: Climate Change and the Midcoast) suggests a decrease in rainfall in summer and winter and an increase during autumn and spring by 2030. The following table abstracted from AdaptNSW shows the projected climate changes.
These climatic changes make water planners think about options that are less dependent on rain. We cannot build ourselves out of a drought - this is one lesson that climate events across the globe have reinforced. In simpler words, engineering solutions alone cannot solve our water security issues. We need to think and act seriously about soft engineering solutions, including leak management and water use behavioural changes.
MidCoast Council’s Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy (IWCM), which is currently under review, is our water security plan for the next 30 years. It considers all the lessons learnt from the recent drought. The strategy is taking an ‘all options on the table’ approach, and will present a portfolio of futureproof water security options to the community. The Strategy also takes into account predicted changes, as illustrated:
Council has incorporated this principle in its approach to the urban water cycle. We shifted from being an emergency Drought Response Team into a Water Resilience Team that meets every month and coordinates our preparedness as a water-sensitive region. The story mentioned at the beginning of the article was shared at one of these meetings.
As we heard from Gloucester, the resilience of the community to adapt to the water pressures during the drought has been exceptional. In rain or shine, we need to save every drop we can. In summary, we need to carry forward the lessons learnt from the drought.
As of 10 February 2022, we have saved 120 million litres of water through leak management using our smart meter project, which commenced in March 2021. This is six days’ worth of water supply for our region. Imagine 48 Olympic-size pools - that’s how much water it is.